DeMarco Murray Won't Fade Away: Titans RB Determined to 'Get After' the Playoffs

Tyler Dunne NFL Features WriterSeptember 14, 2017

Jan 1, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray (29) takes the field prior to the game against the Houston Texans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — He does not plan on dropping a rap album any time soon, like Le'Veon Bell does. He has not declared himself the best running back in the NFL, like LeSean McCoy has. He will not pretend to stuff his face with cereal after first downs, like Ezekiel Elliott will. 

He isn't even throwing down tomahawk jams on a miniature basketball hoop like his backup is a few feet away inside the Titans locker room.

For a running back who has shredded defenses for 6,500-plus yards over the past six seasons—who's just as dominant, if not superior, to all of the above—DeMarco Murray sure is…quiet.

Oh, Murray absolutely could cash in on his talent and force his way onto your television set. The mantra that feeds his success is four simple letters begging to be marketed. Commercials. Merchandise. Hell, a country song. Murray is pals with Cole Swindell, and the two could turn "G-A-T-A" into a tune that blares from Crazy Town on Broadway to Winners and Losers in Midtown. But, no, that isn't Murray's style.

He'll simply wake up in the morning, grab one of his (infinite) shirts with that slogan inscribed on the front and go to work.

He believes these four letters are loud enough.

"The people who really know, who really understand the game, know where I am," Murray says. "And I'm comfortable with myself and who I am as a running back. I don't need to pump my chest and say, 'I'm the best. I'm the best.' I'll let the numbers speak for itself and let my resume speak for itself."

After he takes off his shoulder pads, revealing the drenched shirt, those four letters speak for themselves.

GATA.

Right here is how DeMarco Murray approaches his job, 24/7. Get after their ass? No, no.

"That ass," he clarifies.

GATA, as in Get After That Ass. Fair enough.

Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

Murray wears one of these shirts every day, every game.

"I live by it," he says. "That's my motto. ... Just ask yourself each play: 'Did you win it? Did you win that play?' That's the mindset behind it."    

At 29 years old like McCoy, Murray should wither and rot and disappear any day now. But like McCoy, he won't. Instead, he's the heartbeat of a Titans team that legitimately believes it can contend for a Super Bowl. The Tao of GATA has powered Murray this far, right into your fantasy football lineup. He's now powering the entire Titans team. A team that wants to sock you in the jaw, and then sock you again.

In the midst of a grueling workout with MMA/boxing trainer Jimmy "Giff" Gifford during the offseason, Murray put it bluntly.

"We're going to make a run," he told him. "We're a serious team this year."

This is why.

The origin

All wreckage Murray leaves behind—Damion Square via headbutt, Brandon Carr via hurdle, Terence Newman via flip—is rooted in the Octagon, in a relationship with a CEO who helped turn human beings into borderline barbarians.   

Murray, a Las Vegas native, has always been tight with Lorenzo Fertitta, the co-owner of the UFC for the past 16 years. The two attended the same high school.

As Murray headed to Oklahoma for college and heard Fertitta's sons constantly repeating "GATA, GATA, GATA," he immediately thought, "Damn, I like that." It's so neat, clean, simple. Any Georgia Southern diehards out there will claim the late Erk Russell invented GATA, but research shows he used "their" over "that." Murray is the one who took the Fertittas' slogan and turned it into a lifestyle.

Every professional athlete pours himself or herself into their craft. But right then, Murray realized living by this slogan could make him different.

"My drive and motivation is an addiction," he says. "I enjoy working out. I enjoy working hard. I enjoy getting better—from a mental standpoint, physical standpoint, emotional. ... GATA solidifies what you want to do as a team and as an individual."

Back when he was playing with the Dallas Cowboys, Murray slapped the letters on a shirt, and teammates noticed. Tight end Jason Witten asked for one, then wide receiver Dez Bryant, then more and more, and Murray had to remind everyone the shirt is earned.

DeMarco Murray's Career Stats
YearGRushYdsTD
2011131648972
2012101616634
20131421711219
201416392184513
2015151937026
20161629312879
2017112440
Pro Football Reference

He does not shell out shirts to just anybody, because he knows the work that goes into wearing one.

For him, it's in Vegas, every offseason, working out in Fertitta's gym with "Giff."

And nobody has witnessed the essence of GATA up close like Jimmy Gifford.

The trainer behind Forrest Griffin's 2008 UFC light heavyweight upset of Rampage Jackson—the one who has worked with brawlers T.J. Dillashaw, Cody Garbrandt and Joseph Benavidez in years past and Mike Pyle, Gray Maynard and one of Muhammad Ali's grandsons, Nico, today—has now trained Murray for eight years. These workouts cannot be found on a beach in South Beach, a climate-controlled estate in Arizona or a DVD.

"Gata!" Giff shouts in his deep Boston accent.

This is what GATA looks like:

First, Murray jumps rope. He never did through Pop Warner, high school and most of college, but he now jumps rope daily. After 10 minutes of this in the gym affectionately known as "The Bat Cave," Murray works out in hellish three-minute "rounds." First come the ring circles. On the tips of his toes, he must dance around the ring—with a twist. That first minute, when Murray hits the blue corner, he does six or seven "Ali shuffles" and fires the opposite direction. The second minute, at that blue corner, he does body squats. The third minute, "the hardest," Giff assures, he'll do up-downs in that corner.

The two then head to the Double-M bag for two to four rounds. Speed. Power. Speed. Power. Murray alternates 30 seconds for each over the three-minute rounds. Then it's off to the ring, where Murray boxes Giff, who's in mitts.

"We're punching," Giff says. "We're throwing combinations. We're moving. We're ducking."

Then they head to the heavy bag, where Murray rips off combination punches. Finally, every session ends with an ab routine.

Many days, Murray can reach up to 12 rounds. He does so after previously running hills or doing sprints.

Don't even think about outworking him, either. When ageless 10-time Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald tried, Murray put him in his place. Giff remembers that day well. Right when it seemed like the group's workout was reaching its end—a group that included Fitzgerald and Calais Campbell—Fitzgerald announced to everyone, "We ain't done. Let's do another round after this."

Murray knew of Fitz, of course, but he wasn't necessarily close with him. As he stood in the ring, dripping sweat, he looked at Giff and said, "F--k that. Let's do two more rounds!"

So everyone did.

After those two rounds, he whispered a simple message to Gifford: "Nobody's going to outwork me in my house."

"You are not going to outwork that kid," Gifford says. "I mean, these are Hall of Fame guys in the room. That told me a lot about him. His competitive nature. His push. His drive. And I push him. I treat him like I treat any fighter. I'm a big swearer: 'F--k you. Stop being a b---h. Let's go.' I get in his ass. 'You're not tired! You're still talking to me. If you can talk, you're not tired.' He responds to that. You're not going to kill him. You're not going to make him quit. It ain't happening.

"He really does what I do with world champions. It's the same routine."

Murray will probably call Nashville home when he retires—he loves country music, the people, the food, the culture. But even while sticking around Tennessee much of last offseason, he made a point to fly to Vegas to train, sending Giff "I land Sunday. What time Monday?" texts.

"He reminds me of a granddad who says, 'I'm still going to do more push-ups than you,'" Gifford says. "He just has that drive."

There's something about that gym that feeds the beast within Murray.

Some days, they'll go eight rounds of boxing. "And in the fifth round, [he's] like, 'Oh my god, my arms are tired. My shoulders are heavy. Man. How many more rounds?'" Gifford says. "'Man, f--k you, how many more rounds! We're not even in the fourth quarter yet. Let's go. Let's push.' And he responds."

Some days, they'll go 15 rounds in all. "And now it's 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and I'm saying 'Stop being a b---h. You've got to f--king punch. Punch! Punch! Let's go!'" Gifford says. "And he doesn't quit. He doesn't stop. It's almost like 'Thank you sir, can I have another?'

"The kid's mental toughness is second to none."

The result is a running back who, when he transfers this GATA madness from the ring to the field, you enter his path at your peril.

Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

A running back who is not tired in the fourth quarter. No, Murray only gets stronger.

A running back who, Giff assures, will be the No. 1 reason the Titans make the playoffs this season.

The effect

He knew Murray would not dance, would not juke. He knew Murray would be absolutely blasting his 216 pounds of pure muscle straight through him. Thankfully, he's also here in one piece to talk about it.

Titans safety Johnathan Cyprien tells the tale in his locker with Ghost Adventures dramatics.

It was 2014. They were both in London.

"He was aware of me," he says, "and I was aware of him."

Cyprien played for the Jaguars then, and he had entered the NFL with a reputation as a lights-out hitter. Murray played for the Cowboys, and he was in the midst of a career year. The two collided near the sideline with so much force, they boomeranged off each other.

"It's called, uh, a butterfly hit?" Cyprien says, turning to a teammate. "Hey, what's it called when two people hit each other and they both go back? ... I was like, 'OK, I know what it is. This guy's bringing something with him. I have to bring my hard hat when I play him.'"

Cyprien vowed to never hit Murray high again. Not that it matters.

On a Thursday night game two years later, they met again.

"I ducked, he ducked and boom! And it was a butterfly hit, like I said before. ... It was a wild collision."

They're now teammates, and Cyprien sees the GATA effect up close. Everybody does. A team that has missed the playoffs for eight straight years has adopted Murray's personality. The Titans want to take names, kick ass and leave you hurting in a throwback to the 1970s. There's a snarl to personalities in this locker room. An edge. They're sick of losing.

And yet, Murray cautions everyone, this GATA mentality needs an element of zen.

Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

As angry as he runs, as much as he'd love to win by knockout, Murray isn't thinking knockout. He does not flip that "switch" athletes love to reference.

On Sundays, Murray is at peace with the ball in his hands.

"I try to stay as calm as possible," Murray says. "You don't want to start screaming and doing a bunch of stuff to take away from your energy level. For me, I reserve as much as I can. ... There's a time and place to finish runs."

Giff sees this in Vegas, too. Murray will let the Lil Wayne and Drake bump during warm-ups, but when it's really time to get after it, he asks his trainer to blare country.

"He'll say, 'This song's the s--t!' I'm like, 'You can't say 'the s--t' to a country song!'" Giff laughs. "We crank the music and get after it."

The product is a complete back. He never wanted to be a one-dimensional, seek-and-destroy missile.

"Every running back is a running back for a reason—they can run," Murray says. "But for me, I take pride in my blocking ability and take pride in knowing the defense inside and out. What type of defense it is, what front it is. And my catching ability. I think that separates a lot of running backs, being able to do all three and really understand, really know the dynamics behind the entire offense. What this guy's doing on this route.

"I've always enjoyed learning and try to push myself learning X, Z, F, whatever the case may be, in case we are caught off guard in a scramble situation. For me, I enjoy blocking. I enjoy being out on the field, no matter if I'm running, catching, blocking. I just want to be out there during the game."

Murray isn't only boxing. He's doing speed work with "VertiMax Raptor" bands, getting massages twice a week, taking up residency in a hyperbaric chamber, dry needling, getting acupuncture and spending many nights in a cold tub. He hasn't changed his weightlifting routine—at all, not one exercise—the last four years. So, remarkably, Murray has stayed exactly at 216 pounds throughout his entire career.

Game 1 of the 2017 season was a whimper of an entrance for the Titans and Murray. He rushed for 44 yards on 12 carries in a reality-check loss to Oakland.

Chances are, Murray can hear Giff's "F--k you!" ringing in his ears from 1,800 miles away.

The good news? He still has at least 15 rounds to go. And he doesn't get tired.

The future

The Tao of GATA should've been crushed forever two years ago by one Charles Edward Kelly.

In Philadelphia, Murray was a bad fit on a bad offense. For one season, he resembled a bad running back. One year after leading the NFL in rushing, he carried the ball 199 fewer times. Suffocated, his role diminished weekly.

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

But he never complained. Never in public, never in private to Giff. Instead, his trade to Tennessee instantly rejuvenated him.

Other elite backs have missed time to suspension or to injury, but Murray was flat-out benched in Philadelphia. Looking back, that nightmare season only added a new level to GATA.

"I was able to mature some and really figure out how much I really do love the game of football," Murray reflects. "So being able to step away and look at it from the sidelines was definitely another view. I'm glad I went through it, and it made me a better person and a better football player."

Everything—from the NFL rushing title to Dallas moving on to Philadelphia miscasting him—culminates in this season. The hype is real in the Music City. All players in this locker room see the shirt daily. Other offenses may spread you out with three, four, five receivers. As tight end Delanie Walker says, "It's a copycat league." But the Titans will not be following any other teams' blueprint. They'll follow Murray's lead. They'll bludgeon.  

"It's something we believe in," Walker says. "For us to win, you have to get after the other guys. "We're going to run the ball first. As everybody says, 'Exotic smashmouth.' He fits perfectly in that system, running with his pad level down. Always getting the extra yards. That's what you want from your running back. Always trying. Always pumping his legs."

A dose of Derrick Henry will help, too. The 247-pounder with 4.5 speed will complement Murray again. Murray is excited to work in tandem with the former Heisman winner, Giff says.

Henry sets the bar high for Tennessee's ground game.

"We definitely want to be the best in the league," Henry says. "We want to be very physical, very explosive. We work on it every day."

Murray cautions that nobody should be thinking about the playoffs yet, let alone the Super Bowl. He wants all players to look in the mirror every day and find a way to improve. That's a must, considering they apparently aren't the only smashmouth operation in the AFC South. The Jacksonville Jaguars (do not laugh) resembled a bully in Week 1 (please do not laugh), and they now host these upstart Titans on Sunday.

Calais Campbell? One player in the gym that day Murray took charge? He had four sacks against the Texans in Week 1.

Titans-Jags isn't a punchline. It's a street fight worth watching.

A street fight Murray has built himself for.

Murray doesn't know how many GATA shirts he owns. He's been hoarding 'em for six years now. Still, he only gave out shirts to "a couple" teammates here in Nashville.

Can you blame him? The Titans haven't won anything yet. He's no participation-trophy parent.

But as long as Murray is still throwing punches, the Titans will as well.

"I have to keep grinding," Murray says. "I'm not looking at the end."

Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TyDunne.